Alison Townsend

(Pennsburg, Pennsylvania / United States)

Persephone in America Poem by Alison Townsend


Because the body is a map
and because the map I know best
is the one of this country, I pluck her
from the pages of the book of myth
and paste her down here,
on a page in my journal,
in the middle of my life,
in the middle of the country,
wind from the end of the century
whistling around our face and ears.

I make her walk beside a wagon to get here.
I pick her up, like Midge or Barbie,
and say, Listen, I know you're a goddess.
But those white robes won't cut it.
I dress her the way I dressed myself
in high school so that I can remember
before it is gone - skirts
rolled up too short, white lipstick,
black fishnet stockings that left
our knees printed with diamonds.
I teach her to hitchhike
and take her to Woodstock,
skin bronzed with Bain de Soleil,
her hair streaked California blonde
the way my own was with Sun-In.

I tell her, In this country
girls grow up too young, already
worried about their weight at ten.
But I take her out dancing at midnight
across the tawny fields - the Monkey,
the Frug, the Swim - all the way up
through break and line dancing,
the years humming through us
like a fast-forward film,
while she lies down with the boys
and men I remember, and the delicate,
pink rock roses of our bodies bloom and burn
but refuse to die, their petals a flag sewn
in the shape of a woman printed with stars.

I take her back. I make
her mother die when she is young
and hold her in my arms afterwards
the way I never was. I give her
a tongue, flickering like a small
green flame or a sprout of corn
in her mouth, and whisper America,
America in her ear while she sleeps.
I snap down the faded oilskin
Mercator projection and teach her
the names of the states, letting her love
California best for its Mediterranean air,
her feet fast in a pair of red Keds
that carry her all the way
from one coast to the other,
western meadowlark purling
a goldrush in our heads,
the history of what the body
can become here as spacious
as the sky arching above us.

I tell her the pause between breaths
is what she must always return to.
These mountains, this blue
clarity of thought and air,
golden poppies and owl's clover
blooming in the clefts left
by earthquake, landslide, the flash-
fire-rape of clinical depression
that abducts us but cannot
keep us down, air breathed
from my mouth to hers, life
animating the pale white form
of a woman I walk back into daylight
with from the world below, making
of us both something greater
than loss, inscribing our names
beside those of Homer, Walt Whitman,
Zeus, and God, because it is already
the twenty-first century, and this
is America, where I say
things like this can happen.

Submitted: Friday, August 8, 2014

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